This is one party you are not going to want to miss. HERE Resident Artists Donovan & Calderón invite audiences to a rather surreal gathering in the exhilaratingly funny and utterly bizarre dance-theater piece The Reception, continuing at HERE through June 24. Actor, dancer, and writer Sean Donovan and actor, director, and scholar Sebastián Calderón Bentin have been collaborating since 2003 on such cutting-edge works as Not Unclear, The Climate Chronicles, and 18½ Minutes. For The Reception, they have put together quite a guest list: master choreographers Jane Comfort and Ishmael Houston-Jones, performer and choreographer Leslie Cuyjet, actress Hannah Heller, and the well-mustachioed Donovan himself, an extremely talented comic actor who was a standout in such recent productions as the Builders Association’s Elements of Oz and the first two parts of Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming trilogy. The five fabulously dressed partygoers — the costumes are by Felix Ciprián, with Heller’s sparkling gown a particular stunner — drink, dance, nosh, and schmooze on Neal Wilkinson’s circular wooden stage, cluttered with a couch, a few chairs, a table of snacks and bottles of alcohol, and a light-up globe. Snippets of dialogue come front and center and then disappear into the background, ranging from silly jokes to more serious tales of sexism, misogyny, and ageism, as Houston-Jones tries to score with every other character in hysterical ways. Words and actions repeat, high-heeled shoes come off and are put back on, and Donovan grows ever-more desirous of the “tarty things,” all set to Stevie Wonder’s infectious “Another Star” from his groundbreaking 1976 double album, Songs in the Key of Life. Tension and anxiety wax and wane, stimulated by a sly little take on a fundamental horror movie trope. The fun sound design is by Brandon Wolcott and Tyler Kieffer, which is complemented by Amanda K. Ringger’s inventive lighting, especially when the story takes a creepy turn. And the ending is splendidly mad.
Codirected by Calderón and Donovan, The Reception was inspired by such classic European cinema as Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad, Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, Jacques Tati’s Playtime, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. It was originally titled “Abbadon,” which in Hebrew means “place of destruction” and in Revelation refers to a king who was the “angel of the Abyss,” a hellish place of confinement. The five characters are trapped in their own private sphere, alternating between being deliriously happy, then nervous and worried, concerned for their immediate future. The social-gathering aspects of the show are beautifully precise even with improvisation, expertly detailing the interaction among the bash attendees, from movement to language to facial gesture, especially since all of the performers have collaborated previously on multiple projects: Cuyjet has danced with Jane Comfort and Company since 2005, Donovan and Heller both portrayed Dorothy Gale (and other roles) in Elements of Oz, and Houston-Jones and Comfort teamed up for The Studies Project, among other collaborations, making the proceedings that much more believable no matter how strange it gets. But underneath it all, literally and figuratively, lies the unknown, a dark side from which there might be no escape. In which case, the only thing to do is to keep on partying.